8 ways to kill HR credibility … and tips to avoid them

Lose your credibility and you lose your career.

Credibility is the most important predictor of an HR professional’s effectiveness, according to the 2007 Human Resource Competency Study (HRCS) by The RBL Group leadership firm.

The study looked at the most important roles served by HR people, including change steward, talent manager, strategy architect, operational executor, business ally and credible activist. What’s No. 1? Credible activist.

"HR professionals who are credible but not activists are admired, but do not have much impact. Those who are activists, but not credible, may have ideas but will not be listened to,” the study concludes.

Here are eight key ways to diminish or destroy your credibility:

1. Align yourself too closely with one person or group. For example, having lunch with the same manager every day can generate distrust.

2. Answer questions without the facts. It plays into preconceived notions about HR’s lack of business acumen. It’s better to say “Let me get back to you on that” than to fake it.

3. Make decisions based on others’ emotions. Say a manager and his boss are angry over an employee’s behavior and demand immediate discipline.

“It can be a mistake to let their emotions influence your action,” says Tracy Koll, VP of HR for Simmons Bedding Co. Instead, investigate thoroughly and be fair, or you lose credibility with staff.

4. Remain silent at critical times. “HR should be active participants,” says Dani Johnson, project manager of the HRCS. “Speak out when you have opinions and don’t be a silent note taker at meetings with managers and executives.”    

5. Fail to initiate any big-picture HR projects. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks that can impress management, such as projects that directly benefit the bottom line.

6. Show a lack of business knowledge. If the financial side isn’t your strong suit, take a course so you can discuss balance sheets and budgets.

7. Show a lack of legal knowledge. Your boss—not to mention a jury—will expect you to know state and federal employment laws inside and out.

8. Share confidential and personal information. “It’s one of the fastest ways you can lose credibility,” says Koll.

To avoid tripping over your tongue …

1. Never overreact. When something upsets you, don’t rush to exclaim, “That’s crazy!” You insult others or lead them to doubt your maturity.

2. Be discreet. Stop yourself before you reveal someone’s personal info or discuss delicate information. Before talking about people behind their backs, imagine they are present. Say only what you would to their faces.

3. Don’t speculate. If asked for your opinion, prepare to back it up with evidence. Don’t say more than you know.